The Great Computer Crash
by Rob Spiegel
What would you do if your computer crashed? You've got a backup, right? And you just made it last week, so those contacts you just entered are safe... right? Read the story of what happened when this entrepreneur's computer greeted him with a blank screen.
Computer crashes happen to other people, not me. That's magical thinking, of course. It's a form of madness that seems perfectly sensible because it's supported by reality. Or seeming reality.
I've known plenty of people who have suffered debilitating hard-drive crashes. My eyes glaze over as they tell me the miserable details of eight years' worth of emails lost forever, everything from love letters to that last note from Dad. I'm not necessarily heartless as I politely wait for the tragic list of devastation to come to its whimpering end. I simply can't relate to it. It's like hearing the details of someone's visit to the Grand Canyon. Even as you're nodding your head at the appropriate moments, you're a million miles away.
Computer crashes happen to other people. Like broken legs or lost keys. I never lose my keys.
I've had near crashes. I've pulled my computer back from the edge countless times. Try this, try that, and finally something works, Windows starts loading and presto, there's all your files. Aren't you clever? You got a knack for this.
Computers have saved me thousands upon thousands of hours over the years. Remember White Out? Remember correction tape. Remember re-typing a 50-page report because of five typos? Remember cutting and pasting because you didn't want to re-type a report because of five typos? Remember sheets of names on label grids that could be copied onto a label sheet. What an efficiency breakthrough. Remember how much time the IBM Selectric saved? Remember business letters? Remember research at the library? Remember secretaries?
If you measure the productivity of the computer just in my silly little business life, it comes to thousands of hours, tens of thousands of dollars (I would presently employ a secretary to make myself just half as productive as I am with my computer).
So why is it so distressing when you lose two maybe three days because your computer crashes? A computer crash should be a time of reflection on the great fortune of efficiency and productivity you've enjoyed for the past 15 years. Oh, and the cost of computers is so low now. My first Leading Edge cost $1,500, not counting the printer. Its screen displayed orange-yellow characters, a big breakthrough from the previous year's green characters. When that computer crashed, I could get it back using DOS commands at the C prompt. Remember C:reboot?
So, when my computer froze, I wasn't immediately concerned. It was a tad annoying. Turn it off. Turn it back on. Windows starts loading. Then a blank screen. Try again. Try again. Try again. The same blank screen at the same moment of booting. Hmmm. You try this about 400 times before it begins to sink in. You need the reboot disk.
How long as it been since computers quit coming with reboot disks? Probably eight years . . . I simply haven't noticed. I haven't needed a reboot disk in forever because computer crashes never happen to me. Heck, I don't even have a computer guy anymore. Remember the computer guy? He was reliable like the guy you used to know with a truck who helped everyone move, only smaller.
Why don't computers come with reboot disks anymore? I have two computers. Both have XP. Neither has a reboot disk.
When was the last time you backed up your files? For me, it was some time in the mid-to late 1980s when my computer guy kept insisting I was nuts to not back up. So I backed up my files once or twice. The floppies are still in my bottom desk drawer.
My whole work life is on my computer now. My clients' names and addresses. My latest book, half done. My deadlines. Pictures of my kids after an early winter snow with the dog at the park, building their first snowman. And all I'm getting is a blank screen.
To end this column by saying computer crashes can happen to anyone would not be helpful. You don't need a warning to backup your files or a reminder that computer hell can happen at any moment, like the fender bender that happens when you're just going to Target for laundry soap. I just want to say, be kind to yourself and your dog when it happens, and remember, it's not your kids' fault even if there is gum clogging up your number pad. firstname.lastname@example.org.